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St. Philomena, Patron Saint of Babies, Infants, and Youth

August 11 is the feast day of virgin-martyr, St. Philomena. By the age of 13, Philomena had consecrated herself and her virginity to God. Because of this vow, when Diocletian (1) demanded she become his wife, she refused and was condemned to death.

"St. Philomena" by Amaury-Duval, c.1844  Photo:
"St. Philomena" by Amaury-Duval, c.1844 Photo:

The Roman emperor was to discover that this was no easy task, however.

In August 1833, Philomena spoke to Mother Luisa de Gesu, a Dominican tertiary, detailing the story of her martyrdom. After receiving permission from her spiritual director, Mother Luisa recorded Philomena's words and the transcripts were given the Imprimatur (2) that following December.

This was Philomena's message to Sr. Luisa de Gesù:

"My dear sister, I am the daughter of a Prince who governed a small state in Greece. My mother was also of royal blood. My parents were without children. They were idolaters. They continually offered sacrifices and prayers to their false gods.

"A doctor from Rome, named Publius, lived in the palace in the service of my father. This doctor professed Christianity. Seeing the affliction of my parents, by the impulse of the Holy Spirit, he spoke to them of Christianity and promised to pray for them if they consented to receive Baptism.

"The grace which accompanied his words enlightened their understanding and triumphed over their will. They became Christians and obtained the long desired happiness that Publius had assured them as the reward of their conversion. At the moment of my birth, they gave me the name of 'Lumina,' an allusion to the light of faith of which I had been, as it were, the fruit. The day of my baptism, they called me 'Philomena' (daughter of light), because on that day I was born to the Faith.

"The affection which my parents bore me was so great that they would have me always with them. It was on this account that they took me to Rome on a journey that my father was obliged to make on the occasion of an unjust war with which he was threatened by the haughty Diocletian. I was then thirteen years old.

"On our arrival in the capital of the world, we proceeded to the palace of the Emperor and were admitted for an audience. As soon as Diocletian saw me, his eyes were fixed upon me. He appeared to be prepossessed in this manner during the entire time that my father was stating with animated feelings everything that could serve for his defense.

"As soon as Father had ceased to speak, the Emperor desired him to be disturbed no longer, to banish all rear, to think only of living in happiness. These are the Emperor’s words: 'I shall place at your disposal all the force of the Empire. I ask only one thing, that is the hand of your daughter.'

"My father dazzled with an honor he was far from expecting, willingly acceded on the spot to the proposal of the Emperor. When we returned to our own dwelling, Father and Mother did all they could to induce me to yield to Diocletian’s wishes and to theirs. I cried. 'Do you wish that for the love of a man I should break the promise I have made to Jesus Christ? My virginity belongs to Him. I can no longer dispose of it.'

“'But you were young then, too young,' answered my father, 'to have formed such an engagement.' He joined the most terrible threats to the command that he gave me to accept the hand of Diocletian. The grace of my God rendered me invincible. My father, not being able to make the Emperor relent, in order to disengage himself from the promise he had given, was obliged by Diocletian to bring me to the Imperial Chamber. I had to withstand for sometime beforehand a new attack from my father’s anger. My mother, uniting her efforts to his, endeavored to conquer my resolution. Caresses, threats, everything was employed to reduce me to compliance.

"At last I saw both of my parents fall at my knees and say to me with tears in their eyes, 'My child, have pity on your father, your mother, your country, our country, our subjects.'

“'No, no!' I answered. 'My virginity, which I have vowed to God, comes before everything, before you, before my country. My kingdom is Heaven.'

"My words plunged them into despair and they brought me before the Emperor who, on his part, did all in his power to win me. But his promises, his allurements, his threats, were equally useless. He then got into a violent fit of anger and, influenced by the devil, had me cast into one of the prisons of the palace, where I was loaded with chains.

"Thinking that pain and shame would weaken the courage with which my Divine Spouse inspired me, he came to see me every day. After several days, the Emperor issued an order for my chains to be loosed that I might take a small portion of and bread and water. He renewed his attacks, some of which, if not for the grace of God, would have been fatal to purity.

"The defeats which he always experienced were for me to preludes to new tortures. Prayer
supported me. I ceased not to recommend myself to Jesus and His most pure Mother. My captivity lasted thirty-seven days. Then, in the midst of a heavenly light, I saw Mary holding her Divine Son in her arms. 'My daughter,' she said to me, 'three days more of prison and after forty days you shall leave this state of pain.'

"Such happy news renewed my courage to prepare for the frightful combat awaiting. The Queen of Heaven reminded me of the name I had received in Baptism saying, 'You are Lumina, as your Spouse is called Light or Sun. Fear not, I will aid you. Now, nature, whose weakness asserts itself, is humbling you. In the moment of struggle, grace will come to you to lend its force. The angel who is mine also, Gabriel, whose name expresses force, will come to your succor. I will recommend you especially to his care.' The vision disappeared, leaving my prison scented with a fragrance like incense. I experienced a joy out of his world—something indefinable!

What the Queen of Angels had prepared for me was soon experienced. Diocletian, despairing of bending me, decided upon public chastisement to offend my virtue. He condemned me to be stripped and scourged like the Spouse I preferred to him. These were his horrifying words: 'Since she is not ashamed to prefer to an Emperor like me, as malefactor condemned to an infamous death by his own people, she deserves that my justice shall treat her as he was treated.'

"The prison guards hesitated to unclothe me entirely, but they did tie me to a column in the presence of the great men of the court. They lashed me with violence until I was bathed in blood. My whole body felt like one open wound but I did not faint. The tyrant had me dragged back to the dungeon expecting me to die. I hoped to join my heavenly Spouse.

"Two angels shining with light appeared to me in the darkness. They poured a soothing balm on my wounds, bestowing on me a vigor I did not have before the torture. When the Emperor was informed of the change that had come over me, he had me brought before him. He viewed me with a greedy desire and tried to persuade me that I owed my healing and regained vigor to Jupiter, another god, that he, the Emperor, had sent to me.

"He attempted to impress me with his belief that Jupiter desired me to be Empress of Rome, joining to these seductive words, promises of great honor, including the most flattering words. Diocletian tried to caress me. Fiendishly, he attempted to complete the work of hell which he had begun. The Divine Spirit to whom I am indebted for constancy in preserving my purity seemed to fill me with light and knowledge. To all the proofs, which I gave of the solidity of our Faith, neither Diocletian nor his own courtiers could find an answer.

"Then the frenzied emperor dashed at me, commanding a guard to chain an anchor around my neck and bury me deep in the waters of the Tiber. The order was executed. I was cast into the water, but God sent to me two angels who unfastened the anchor. It fell into the river mud where it remains, no doubt, to the present time. The angels transported me gently in full view of the multitude upon the riverbank. I came back unharmed, not even wet, after being plunged with the heavy anchor.

"When a cry of joy rose from the watchers on the shore, and so many embraced Christianity by proclaiming their belief in my God, Diocletian attributed my preservation to secret magic. Then the emperor had me dragged through the streets of Rome and shot with a shower of arrows. My blood flowed but I did not faint. Diocletian thought that I was dying and commanded the guards to carry me back to the dungeon. Heaven honored me with a new favor there. I fell into a sweet sleep.

"A second time the tyrant attempted to have me pierced with sharper darts. Again, the archers bent their bows. They gathered all their strength but the arrows refused to second their intentions. The Emperor was present. In a rage, he called me a magician and, thinking that the action of the fire could destroy the enchantment, he ordered the darts to be made red in a furnace and directed against my heart.

"He was obeyed. But these darts, after having gone over a part of the space which they were to cross to come to me, took a quite contrary direction and returned to strike those by whom they had been hurled. Six of the archers were killed by them. Several among them renounced paganism. The people began to render public testimony to the power of God that protected me.

"These murmurs and the acclamations infuriated the tyrant. He determined to hasten my death by piercing my neck with a lance. My soul took flight towards my heavenly Spouse who placed me with the crown of virginity and the palm of martyrdom in a distinguished place among the elect.

"The day that was so happy for me and saw me enter into glory was Friday, the third hour after midday, the same hour that saw my Divine Mater expire."

Philomena's tomb was not discovered for 1500 years. In1802, excavators discovered her grave in catacombs dating back to apostolic times. The tomb was sealed with terra cotta tiles upon which were inscribed the words, "Lumena /Paxte / Cumfi. Experts interpreted this as a misguided attempt to say, "Peace be with you, Philomena." Also etched into the tiles were drawings of two anchors, two arrows, a palm, a javelin, and a lily (for purity).

Inside, along with her remains, was a vial of her blood—a custom often performed for martyrs of those times. It was in the process of transferring the dried blood samples to a new container that the first miracle occurred. Philomena's blood took on the semblance of precious stones such as rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and gold.

The many miracles (3) attributed to St. Philomena are too numerous to count. One of the most well known is the healing of Pauline Jaricot, a young French girl whose heart was very weak. On her way to the Shrine at Mugnano, where she intended to pray to Philomena for a cure, Pauline planned to stop in Rome to receive a blessing from Pope Gregory XVI. Her heart could not bear the stress, however, and she was forced to take shelter in a convent along the way.

In gratitude for Pauline's contributions to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and the Living Rosary Association, the pope, upon hearing of her poor health, decided to visit Pauline at the convent. It was then that she made a pact with Gregory XVI.

"If on my return from Mugnano I were to come to the Vatican on foot, then would Your Holiness deign to proceed without delay to the final inquiry into the cause of Philomena?" The pope agreed to her terms, assuming that she would never live to see Mugnano.

Pauline did manage to make it to Mugnano, but by that time, she was so ill that she could not even speak. As she attempted to kneel at Philomena's shrine, she collapsed onto the floor. It was then that Pauline began to feel a soothing warmth creep over her body as the color returned to her face. Pauline was cured.

She headed back to Rome to ensure that Pope Gregory keep his end of the bargain. When he recognized her he said, "And has she come back from the grave, or has God manifested in her favor the power of the Virgin-Martyr?" The pope kept his word. He promulgated a decree January 30, 1837, authorizing devotion to Philomena and celebration of Masses in her honor. Later, was he gave Philomena the title, "Patroness of the Living Rosary."

No one was more devoted to St. Philomena than St. John Vianney (4) (also known as the Curé d'Ars). It was Pauline Jaricot, in fact, who initiated the friendship between the two. When Pauline shared St. Philomena's relics with John Vianney, he set to work on a chapel in which to enshrine them. The chapel soon became the site of countless cures and conversions. Thousands flocked to Ars in hopes of cures. Devotion to St. Philomena soon spread throughout the world to kings and peasants, alike.

St. John ultimately made Philomena his special patroness and composed a novena (5) and a litany(6) to his little saint.

Pope Leo XII canonized Philomena. In the years to come, several popes encouraged her veneration, including Pope Gregory XVI, Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII, and Pope St. Pius X.

On February 14, 1961, the Novus Ordo Sacred Congregation of Rites issued a liturgical directive removing St. Philomena's feast day, August 11, from all liturgical calendars.